By Lee Eisenstaedt
In times of crisis, when the whole world has been turned upside down by a number of extraordinary events, we need something to believe in that consistently makes sense. It’s an island of security in an insecure climate. And, in many ways, the organizations we belong to can provide just such a feeling when they have a culture of leadership.
What is a culture of leadership, and why does it matter today?
It is the web of beliefs, practices and processes that describe the way things get done in an organization. Whether you are new to the company or have been with the organization for 15 years, this is the belief system of how the people interact in the organization. It’s a road map to rationality and guiding principles the company adheres to when it comes to internal questions such as:
• How do you forge relationships?
• How do you make decisions?
• How is trust built here?
• How do you resolve conflict in your organization?
• How do you create alignment?
When we find the answers to these questions, every level of the company is aligned on the way things get done, which in turn leads to a business that will thrive and grow. As you think about your own core values and the types of behaviors you demonstrate and encourage in others, ask yourself: What do I tolerate around here? What don’t I tolerate? The answers define your culture and differentiate you from your competition.
Sometimes the leaders we talk to know the answers. Sometimes they don’t. And sometimes there’s a sharp discrepancy between what each of the people on the leadership team says. But above all, we know that the practices, policies and procedures are all built on the foundation of those answers.
Back up your culture of leadership.
Let’s say that holding each other accountable for your commitments and results is one of your core values. Now, that certainly sounds good when you communicate that regularly. But actions matter. Is there infrastructure in place so that people can see what their goals and objectives are or how their department is doing in the big picture with the rest of the company? Is there a fearless environment in place that encourages feedback where anyone can always ask an underachieving person or department what can be done to improve the situation while staying true to the original goal? To be clear, this isn’t about throwing any one person or department “under the bus.” Just the opposite. It’s a discipline designed to ensure everyone has each other’s back and is looking out for one another.
I worked at S.C. Johnson & Son, an organization where “how do we do things around here” and “what isn’t tolerated” was always easy to answer because we were in such great alignment from the top down. They weren’t just words spoken from the highest office in the company. They were memorialized in 1976 in a statement called “This We Believe.” They were backed up by actions. And those actions were backed up by other actions depending on whether it was positive behavior (rewards) or negative behavior (tough conversations, probation, dismissal). When leaders or managers behaved in a manner inconsistent with that statement, employees could often be heard saying “Can you believe this?” as a way to hold them accountable for their misaligned behavior.
See, you can know where you want to go as a company, how you want to align with others on your team and how many people believe how things should be done. But the “rubber meets the road” comes when things are actually implemented. Speaking of alignment, let’s talk about its relationship with and the difference between it and agreement.
Understand the difference between alignment and agreement.
As you understand where more of your employees are coming from, remember that you don’t need agreement on what the core values of your company are, but you do need alignment. You can’t tolerate misalignment any more than you can tolerate your car’s alignment being off. After all, just a little bit off is enough to pull you to the right or left and take you into a ditch. That’s not an option!
This is where leaders and leadership come in. At the top, you’re the only one who can make decisions about who stays, who goes, what markets you’re going to enter and if you’re going to complete a merger. People are looking to you to ultimately and definitively decide which way to go. And when you don’t provide direction, you aren’t doing your job — it may be that you really just want to be liked and will change your mind frequently and listen to the last person who had your ear.
That said, multiple opinions from the C-suite and possibly below can weigh in during the process of decision-making, even if you’re the one who makes the final call. And as they are contributing opinions, they’re buying into the solution because it’s the one they’re creating. They’re identifying gaps and working with you to close them. Again, we’re looking for alignment, not necessarily agreement on the solution.
What do you need to do next?
First, identify the goalposts for where you need to go and need to be. Assess your current and desired states and the gaps between them. Define the steps, checkpoints and milestones you’ll need as you move forward. With those checkpoints and goalposts clarified, you’ll be positioned to implement a plan for moving from point A to point B, at a pace that’s focused on a few important milestones at a time versus trying to do it all at once.
With this in mind, how close are you to a culture of leadership? Do you have total alignment even if there’s not total agreement? What’s tolerated? What’s not? And does everyone model those behaviors? Face the gaps now or they’ll only grow wider.
This article originally appeared at https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2020/08/04/a-culture-of-leadership-is-needed-now-more-than-ever/#775a20aa165a